Category Archives: Choral music

Kyrie and Gloria Patri

KyrieGloriaPatriEx

Kyrie and Gloria Patri. For congregation and organ, with cantor or choir (opt. SATB). The choir may sing in parts or unison. In the Kyrie the choir or a solo voice may be cantor. Separate congregation part available for bulletin. Commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, Daniel Spratlan, music director, and Cynthia A. Jarvis, minister.

I have composed a Kyrie, a “Lord, have mercy,” before, in the Mass for Philadelphia, but never a separate Gloria Patri (the words traditionally end Magnificat settings, and I do have several of those). Dan Spratlan has begun to commission settings for his Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, and asked me for one, to be used beginning in the fall of 2017.

It is bliss to write challenging music for professionals, but is in some ways even more delightful to write successful music for amateurs. The largest group of amateurs who sing new music every week is the church congregation. I’ve composed hymn and liturgical settings for congregations most of my career.

While the difference in musical abilities between amateurs and professionals may be great, the composer’s challenge—and honor—is always the same: to serve them, to help them sound their best, and to reveal truths.

The musical opportunities in small forms like this Kyrie and Gloria Patri are as profound as one wishes to make them. To create dramas through the text while not obscuring the line is a useful craft no matter what the music is, but the task is heightened in music for a congregation, since the moment a congregation is unsure of itself, it stops singing. The music must always support and encourage the congregation, and thankfully, every facet of music is available to assist in that task.

I’ve done something slightly new in this. It is not unheard of in choral music, but it doesn’t happen often, where voices will depart here and there from a “doubling” accompaniment. You’ll see an example in the alto line in measure 5 above, at “have”; the altos sing a D while the organ plays a C. It is not only to avoid the direct 5th (and avoiding those as we were taught is, yes, generally a good idea—although I kept it in the organ part). There were other ways to fix that fifth. No, it rather comes out of thinking of the choir and organ as part of an ensemble—an orchestra, if you will—where lines follow their own lights and are not simply copies of each other. I first noticed this only a few years ago in a Wagner chorus I was singing. The choral bass part did something other than what the orchestral basses were playing (and what I’d expected), and it charmed me.

If an SATB choir is available, it will sing what it sings and won’t get in the way of the congregation. And that’s the other challenge the composer is constantly trying to solve—to get out of the way.

(The Gloria Patri is in G major and the Kyrie is actually in a mode, G dorian, even though it ends more on B-flat. A certain fuzziness in cadencing can be appropriate, I feel, if that conflict in mood helps to drive home the feeling of the text. A Kyrie should offer comfort only with the knowledge that one who is unworthy of comfort falls completely on mercy. That is why I do not hear the last chord as an add 6 (Bb+6) or a Gm7/Bb, even though it is both of those. I’m not sure, in this context, what the chord is.)

KyrieGloriaPatriCadence

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Rejoice in the Lamb

Rejoice in the Lamb. SATB, 5′.

To Dr. John H. French, on the 25th anniversary of his ministry as organist/choirmaster of The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. Premiered 2 July 2017.

Live recording of the premiere:

 

Using the same title as the Benjamin Britten 17-minute cantata, and using words from the same monumental Christopher Smart poem, Jubilate Agno, that Britten used, this is a 5-minute a cappella anthem or concert work. The first two lines of my setting (text below) are also in Britten’s, but the other two lines are not. John French had asked if the Britten work, which he loves and has often conducted, could possibly inspire another setting, and so I looked closely at Britten’s piece, and then Smart’s original poem.

After long consideration—the poem is huge—the text began to take shape around the occasion I was asked to celebrate, French’s 25 years as organist and choirmaster at one of the great churches of Philadelphia, and a landmark on Rittenhouse Square, The Church of the Holy Trinity.

Smart was a profoundly pious man, and that did not make his life a smooth one. Taken to falling on his knees in the street and praying, he was viewed as unstable and was committed first to a mental asylum and then to a debtors’ prison. He wrote part if not all of Jubilate Agno in confinement.

The life of this poet and the circumstances of this poem colored the music’s character. The shifting between E major and a parallel mode of A lydian came out of this. I thought that the halting, almost-too-sweet “Give the glory to the Lord” was appropriate, as were the repeating Hallelujahs, driving to an ecstatic proclamation at the end.

I have been Holy Trinity’s resident composer since 2013, fortunate to have most of my anthems and another commission sung in that historic church. Among the distinguished leaders who have served there are the rector Phillips Brooks and the organist Lewis Redner, who created “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at that church for a Sunday School class in 1868. John French serves as the descendant of Redner, organist Robert Elmore, and many others who were dedicated to the spiritual growth of the congregation and the integrity of the music they produce, just as they are descended from Asaph of the Psalms, “the musician of the Lord.”

Rejoice in God, O ye Tongues; give the glory to the Lord, and the Lamb.
Hallelujah from the heart of God, and from the hand of the artist inimitable.
For a NEW SONG also is best, if it be to the glory of God; and taken with the food like the psalms.
Let Asaph rejoice with the Nightingale—The musician of the Lord! and the watchman of the Lord!
—Christopher Smart (1722-1771)

O Thou Who Camest from Above

O Thou Who Camest from Above. SATB, 4 ‘. Commissioned for the 90th Concert Season of the Greenville College Choir and Chamber Singers, Jeffrey S. Wilson, director. The tune is Hereford by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), the text is Leviticus 6:13 and the hymn by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), is based on the Leviticus verse.

In April 2016 I was the guest composer for the Greenville College Schoenhals Fine Arts Symposium in Greenville, Illinois. At the end of my few days’ residency there, during which I taught classes and heard performances of works of mine, the chair of choral activities Jeffrey Wilson asked me if I would be interested in composing a work for their annual choir tour. They tour every year, and in 2017 they would be coming to Philadelphia and the East Coast, as it happened, during their 90th concert season.

[Live recording from Greenville’s Spring ’17 Home Concert]

I was happy to be asked to write for his excellent choir. Greenville is a Free Methodist university (previously a college, they received university status on 1 June 2017), and Jeff wondered if I might like to arrange this work by the great Methodist hymnodist Charles Wesley, set to music by Charles’s grandson Samuel Sebastian Wesley. I did not know the hymn but immediately liked both words and music, the tune Hereford.

Noting that the hymn was an application of one verse from Leviticus, I decided to set that verse as well, using it to open and close the arrangement. While setting those words, I only then noticed the assonance of its final words “go out” with the opening of the hymn, “O Thou,” so that explains the musical overlapping. To transition back to Leviticus at the end, I added the “Amen,” which in earlier generations ended the singing of every hymn.

Written for a college choir of about three dozen singers, this is of moderate difficulty and workable for any church choir with balanced sections.

[Here is the Greenville College Choir singing it at the WRTI studios, stopping by on 17 March 2017 to rehearse some of their tour concert. Jeffrey Wilson conducts:]


The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.
—Leviticus 6:13

O Thou who camest from above
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart!

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze;
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work, and speak, and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
Till death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make the sacrifice complete. Amen.
—Charles Wesley (after Leviticus 6:13)

I Could See the Sky

I Could See the Sky. For SATB, 2-part Treble Choir, Keyboard, optional String Quartet, 17 minutes (Treble Choir may be boys and/or girls or a few women)

The editing process is usually severe. Many good things—music, text, both—are often left on the cutting room floor, and you grieve for a moment but you move on. In 2011, I left texts behind when I wrote the song cycle Plain Truths for David Yang and the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. It set the writings of Newburyport authors, professional and amateur, and two years later, when David asked me to expand the cycle, I was able to add more, but still, grudgingly, left some behind. I never really know why something strikes me more or less than something else. Much of it may simply be timing.

If that’s true, then the timing for this new cycle turned out to be crucial. When David called me about writing this new piece, I was driving in my car. I pulled over to talk because I saw his name on the phone and I always enjoy talking to David, who is warm, brilliant, and soulful.

I also was in no hurry. I was driving to my brother’s house, where he had taken his life a few days before. The next day was trash day in his town. The trash cans needed to be taken around to the curb, and that is what I was driving there to do. [I have written more about this here.] So, I was in no hurry to return to the house. I told David where I was driving and he would not talk any more about music or business but only about my brother, and about my family. My older sister Carole had died the year before, after a long battle with cancer. Of the children, Susan, the youngest, and I remained.

Later, when I looked for texts in earnest, the John Lagoulis account of his near-drowning came roaring back to me out of the Newburyport writings I still held onto. I knew I had to set it. Everything else fell immediately into place.

These words, with a poetry that screams from within their commonplace garb, bludgeoned me. There is a little bit of my childhood in each of these, but the Lagoulis pulled them all together. I made that one the final section and dedicated it to my brother and sisters.

For the premier concert David also asked me to arrange something of the Plain Truths cycle for solo organ, so I chose the one most closely aligned in spirit to this new cycle, “Annie Lisle,” and also the rousing “Spirit of Freedom.” I call this new set for organ Ballad and March.


First performance Saturday, 19 August 2017, Central Congregation Church of Newburyport, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, David Yang, artistic director; George Case, conductor; Newburyport Choral Society, George Case, music director; Greater Newburyport Children’s Chorus, Gina McKeown, music director; the Choir School at St. John’s, Margaret Harper, director; Yonah Zur and Yuri Namkung, violins; David Yang, viola; Claire Bryant, cello; Margaret Harper, organ. Text for Nos. 1-4 from Life in Newburyport, 1950-1985, collected by high school students of Jean Foley Doyle, edited by Jennifer Karin. Text for No. 5 from Newburyport: As I Lived It! by John Lagoulis. Commissioned by and dedicated to the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, David Yang, Artistic Director.


1. The Ide of Jay
Anne Teel

Right near our house, and this does not exist today, there used to be a little boatyard. There was only one boat in that boatyard and that boat was called the Ide of Jay. It was a beautiful sloop sailboat. Every year the Ide of Jay would get launched. It was a very wealthy man that owned it. He would go south with the Ide of Jay and in the fall he brought her back up. They would bring her back up into the shed. And I could remember it was almost a holiday when the Ide of Jay got launched. This huge boat being launched into the water. If they tied her up for a week or two before he left for the south, we would sneak up on her deck and dive off the fantail. I had a wonderful childhood.

2. I had a brother, Harold
Betty Doyle

I had a brother, Harold, they called him “Gramp.” And I had a brother, Norman, they called him “Boogie.” Don’t ask me why. And this was part of the gang. “Goat” Perkins, “Cowie” Little, “Duke” Little, and “Farmer” Hamilton. Years ago everybody had a nickname. There was “Spud” Pollard, “Fishy” Morrill and “Gumdrop” Lawler.

3. We lived everywhere
Bob Fuller

We lived everywhere in Newburyport. Most of my time was spent in the northend. The people are different from the southend; I think this still applies. There’s a difference. I always liked the southend. It was older, warmer.

4. I have lived in this house
Sid Weiner

The square, at that time, was not what you see today. I have lived in this house for eighty-five years.

5. I was looking up
John Lagoulis

I was looking up. I could see the sky and the wharf and my sisters and my brother looking down at me.

When I pulled hard on a rope to bring the dory in, it responded like a spring, the anchor was entrenched. I pulled real hard. A boulder was under the surface. I hit my head. I had a comfortable feeling like sleeping in a bed and had no desire to move. I was lying on my back at the bottom of the Merrimack River.

I was drowning and I didn’t know it.

I saw my brother leap into the water. Jumped right in after me with all his clothes on. He lifted me up with one arm and with his other arm held to the rope and pulled us toward the wharf. My sisters helped. They rolled me back and forth over a barrel. People on the river knew, it was common knowledge among sailors and people.

All my life I have been proud of my brother and sisters.

Peaceful Choral Music by Living Composers

Just ran across this today, but it’s been out there for awhile, apparently: a list of 50 titles on Spotify, Peaceful Choral Music by Living Composers. I don’t know if they’re listed in order of preference, but at #10 is, from my Vespers, the 16-part a cappella Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn.

The recording by The Crossing on the Piffaro CD is also on lists here and here and elsewhere, but another list here has it at #9, linking to this video, by the Virginia Chorale:

It’s uplifting and gratifying to be included on any list with Arvo Pärt, Eric Whitacre, Morten Lauridsen, David Lang, John Luther Adams, Joby Talbot, Robert Moran, Francis Pott, and on and on. I don’t know how these things come about, but thanks to whomever, and enjoy (“Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn” is available separately from Vespers, by the way, and also in English)!

Three Things I Learned from Gregg Smith

You Are Most Welcome

JeffQuartets

One of 15 commissioned by The Crossing to honor the memory of their co-founder Jeffrey Dinsmore, I chose the text of my setting from his emails to me. Jeff passed away two years ago, much too soon. Donald Nally, The Crossing’s conductor, is of course their most visible leader. But he has said that Jeff, with whom he started the group 11 years ago, was the real behind-the-scenes drive, filled with ideas and energy. He was also the possessor of a beautiful, softly luminous tenor voice which I loved to hear.

Our instructions were to write short, unaccompanied, non divisi SATB works, so that they could be sung by a choir or by four people. You Are Most Welcome comes in at about three and a half minutes.

I forget, now, who the “him” is in the text, but I think it was either a poet or perhaps Richard Stone of Tempesta di Mare, during The Waking Sun project. The shots “from the recording” and the “higher resolution” refer to photographs Jeff took during the recording of Vespers.

Our daughter Priscilla, a member of Piffaro, was there, and I remember that photograph well. Jeff took it at the dessert-and-things reception laid out after the third and last night of recording the choir, a night interrupted by thunderstorms and power outtages, with the last bit of Vespers to be recorded—Psalm 27—the gnarliest and most difficult chunk left until the end. We just—just—got it finished by the 10 pm deadline, chewing through it phrase by phrase, sometimes bar by bar, the tension building alongside an intense calm the more difficult it got.

Yes, we all looked relieved, and Jeff was as cool and professional and happy as anyone.

Priscilla, ersatz raconteurThe night of the premiere of this and the 14 other works, 8 July 2016, at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, was a loving and moving remembrance of Jeff, who we miss still. While most of the evening’s works were performed by the full choir, Donald chose four singers for You Are Most Welcome, opening the concert with it. Thank you, Donald. Thank you, Jeff’s love Rebecca Siler, and Maren Brehm, Steven Bradshaw, and Dan Schwartz.

Philadelphia Inquirer review: “Kile Smith’s You Are Most Welcome musicalized e-mails from Dinsmore showing how a peripheral glance at a personality can reveal things that a more earnest portrait does not.”

You Are Most Welcome
music by Kile Smith
text by Jeffrey Dinsmore, from emails written to the composer

You are most welcome.

I hope all is well in the new year for you.
I know you aren’t finished yet,
but would you mind taking
a few minutes to chat with him?

I can give you much higher resolution.
I shot all the ones from the recording
so you can use whatever.
You can use whatever you want.
I love the shot of you and your daughter,
and yes, you look relieved.

On the way to you.

Should be soon.

Hope all is well.

Best,
Jeff

YouAreMostWelcomeP1a